When it comes to weight loss, achieving your “goal weight,” or trying to improve your physique before a big event, it is quite common to assign a particular length of time to a goal and be determined to lose weight rapidly. But how many times have you become frustrated that you couldn’t lose ____ pounds in ____ number of weeks?
Let’s talk about our body mechanics.
Our bodies are incredibly smart. We can thank it for the hard work it does to keep us alive, even if we aren’t treating it the way we’d like to be treated! If you remember learning about homeostasis –when our bodies become imbalanced due to internal and external circumstances- the body responds by self-regulating physiological, metabolic, and biochemical mechanisms to regain balance and make sure all body systems can function properly.
Insufficient energy intake is an example of an external factor that disrupts homeostasis.
Imagine you receive a weekly paycheck of $1,000 per week, which allows you to pay all of your bills and have leftover spending money. All of a sudden, your paycheck gets cut in half, so you only receive $500 per week. Uh-oh, that’s a big difference! Now you’ll have to avoid any unnecessary spending to pay your bills on time and maintain any savings you already have. This is so similar to how our bodies work. If your body is used to eating 2,000 calories per day (as an example, because everyone’s needs are different!), your metabolism is probably pretty efficient and fast because you’re giving it all the energy it needs to fuel your day-to-day activities. If you suddenly restrict yourself to only 1000 calories per day, it’s going to try to conserve as much energy as possible to compensate for such a huge energy deficit and to prevent you from starving. On the contrary, if you only decrease your calorie intake from 2000 to 1800 calories per day while nourishing your body with health-promoting, nutritious foods, you’ll still be in a calorie deficit, but your body won’t have to adapt so drastically. It will make losing weight much more efficient and less difficult.
Metabolic adaptation was an important survival mechanism for our ancestors.
Our Paleolithic ancestors had to rely on the food in nature to sustain them. In periods of low food availability or famine, their bodies would adapt and expend less energy to prevent starvation. This is exactly what happens when you give your body less calories than it needs to fuel what you’re doing. Your metabolism becomes less efficient to try to store body fat as a survival mechanism. You might find that you’re sleepier, more fatigued, struggling to get through your workouts, and more likely to choose the elevator over the stairs because it requires less energy. As you can imagine, this makes it really hard to lose weight! Eventually, the inadequate energy intake will take its toll, you’ll probably feel burnt out, and might quit dieting all together.
That is why slow, gradual weight loss is not only more sustainable in the long run, but is a healthier and more efficient way to achieve your goals.
For a BMI of 27 to 35, the recommended rate of weight loss is 1/2lb to 1lb per week. While that may seem slow, over the course of 6 months, that can result in a substantial reduction of 10% body fat and doesn’t require any restrictive, aggressive dieting tactics.
If you are struggling with your weight loss journey, remember to thank your body for preventing you from starving. Keep in mind that improving your health is a marathon, not a sprint! Consistent and diligent progress will produce the best results.